The Inspectors Call ... lesson observation.
The Inspectors Call ... lesson observation.

Integrating mentoring and action research into Kounai-ken:

teachers' professional development with Japanese abilities.

Sarah Fletcher, Bath Spa University

Presented to the Annual Conference for the British Educational Research Association,

University of Glamorgan, Cardiff, Wales, 15 September 2005

Representing Teachers' Knowledge
Mentoring and Action Research for CPD

Carnegie Foundation KEEP Toolkit templates

PowerPoint December 2004: Mentoring and Action Research
Keynote presentation Tokorosawa Teachers' Centre, Tokyo

Observers line the classroom
Observers line the classroom
Kounai-ken in action (0.25 minutes)
The boy (to the right) counts observers

What is the focus of your investigation?

In my contribution to our symposium I will be examining the role of kounai ken in Japanese Teachers' Professional Development based on the paper given by Asada (2004). From here, I will reflect on my observations of two sessions of kounai ken during a visit to Niigata and Tokyo in December 2004. I will compare and contrast experiences in OFSTED inspection with my understandings of this primary form of teachers' professional development in Japan. Finally, I will seek to show how my learning has been informed by my experience of kounai-ken. I have been invited to offer lecture workshops about mentoring integrated with action research during five visits to a total of three locations in Japan since 2000.

In my presentation, I will look at how my approach to integrating mentoring in action research to assist teachers' professional development has evolved as a result of my visits and research collaboration with Professors Asada and Ikuta. Using the PowerPoint presentation that I prepared for my most recent visit to speak to teachers as potential action researchers in Tokyo, I will share my own perception that mentoring relationships might be integrated into kounai-ken in order to sustain this form of Continuing Professional Development for teachers. Mentoring in Japan is usually associated with a hierarchical apprenticeship model but I suggest that a model of mentoring as collaborative enquiry could become a more useful perspective, not only for initial teacher training but also for career long development.

In my paper I will explicate how my approach to action research has been modified in the light of sharing understandings I have gained. Increasingly, I am coming to realise that, starting from a positive basis "I am good at ... but want to improve can be a better for professional development than "I have a problem."

The stimulus for this class' story writing
The stimulus for this class' story writing
The assistant principal arrives! 

What resources have you found helpful?

Asada, T. (2004) A Case Study on the Function of Kounai-ken for Teachers' Professional Development in Japan, BERA 2004, Manchester

Fletcher, S. (2000) Mentoring in Schools: A Handbook of Good Practice, London, RoutledgeFalmer

Ikuta, T. and Takahashi, T. (2004) A Study of Japanese Teachers' Practical Knowledge by means of an on-going cognition method, paper presented at BERA 2004, Manchester

Lewis, C. (2000) Lesson Study: The Core of Japanese Professional Development, invited address to the SIG on Research in Mathematics Education, AERA, New Orleans, April 28, 2000

McNiff, J. (2002) Action Research Principles and Practice, London, RoutledgeFalmer

MEXT, (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, (2002) Developing a Strategic Plan to cultivate "Japanese with English Abilities" accessed at on 16 August 2004

MEXT (1998/7) National Curriculum Standards Reform for Kindergarten, Elementary School, Lower and Upper Secondary School and schools for the visually disabled, the hearing impared amd the otherwise disabled.

Research about CPD in Japan
This link takes you to the section devoted to Japanese educators' writings in the web site at

Toni shares her insights into her successful practice with the teacher research group at Westwood St Thomas School. (1.25 minutes)

Close observations as the lesson unfolds
Close observations as the lesson unfolds
Children listen to teachers' instructions (0.25 minutes)

What results have emerged?

Kounai ken (Asada, 1994) is the main form of teachers' CPD (continuing professional development) in Japan.

It is divided into three parts: Jitzen-ken (before the lesson) which is discussion about the lesson planning; Teaching in the classroom; Jigo-ken (after the lesson) where there is discussion about the observed lesson by all teachers and (potentially) the creating of new practical knowledge.

The first two sections are paralleled in my experience of OfSTED inspections n the UK, but the third - where all the observers have an opportunity to discuss what happened in class and pass judgement, is different. Some of the observers are from the same school as the teacher being observed, some from faculty and some from the city/prefecture board of education. Usually just one OfSTED inspector is present a lesson. In Japan the observers line the classroom and freely circulate to ask the students about their learning. It is a much more communal event and occurs 6 times in each school year, on average.

According to Asada (1994) 'In Japan almost all schools have many, many problems which are bullying, refusal to go to school, declining achievement and so on'. The aim of this study is to ascertain the potential benefit of integrating action research with mentoring into the practice of Kounai-ken, to enhance teachers' professional development and to help them enhance teaching and learning in Japanese schools.

'Kounai-ken is regarded as the key place of learning in community for teachers ... in spite of the importance of peer tachers for teacher development, little is known about the kind of practical knowledge which teachers have individually and would be actually expressed, created, and regenerated by teachers in kounai-ken.' (ibid, 1994)

The changing culture of CPD in Japanese schools

According to Lewis (2000) 'Within Japanese schools, and perhaps within Japanese culture more widely, hansei - self-critical reflection - is emphasised and esteemed. Both teachers and students set goals for self-improvement in a quest for character improvement (that) is close to being a national religion.' So why is there a growing problem in truancy, bullying and underachievement in Japanese schools? partly this is to do with the influx of ideas and role models from outside Japan - many inducted through the Internet which gives easy access to youth cultures of variable productive value. Partly, it is due to a shift in focus in Japan where there has been a steep incline in the attention given to becoming more western (MEXT, 2002). Partly it is because, as in the UK, the speed and frequency of government initiatives have often overtaken teachers' capacities to evolve educational practice and some teachers are feeling disillusioned and exhausted.Nevertheless, Kounai ken (Asada, 1994) is potentially a highly effective form of professional development as it is rooted in consultation in lesson planning, observation and post-observation discussion. Additionally it regular and regulated by outside agencies (the Prefecture) as well as by the school inspected(Lewis, 2000)

The National Curriculum (1998) stresses the centrality of a highly skilled and autonomous workforce ' 5. Teachers: It is necessary to place great value on children' ability to learn and think independently, to select educational content carefully and to make efforts to improve educational activities. To promote these successfully, teachers need to improve their teaching skills. This requires further improvement on teacher training, appointment and in-service training'.

Almost everyone seemed sure what to do.
Almost everyone seemed sure what to do.
Individual effort is rewarded in class. 

How can we learn about this lesson? (1.00 minutes)

Video and non-participant observation in class
Video and non-participant observation in class
Children read aloud the account they have written (0.5 minutes)

What was your approach and/or what evidence have you gathered?

This web-based snapshot represents the climax of five years collaborative enquiry with Professors Asada and Ikuta and colleagues who share my commitment to mentoring and action research. We have engaged in enquiry together, exploring ways of enabling teachers' continuing professional development in our respective countries. We have drawn on the idea of Mc Niff and Whitehead (2002) but over time and through experience we have extended the work of these authors. In 2000 I visited japan with Jack Whitehead and I well remember co-presenting workshops with him. His approach to action research focusing on the "i" is enabling where more traditional positivist approaches can inhibit the expression and explication of teachers' experiences of their own professional growth. However, since that visit I have come to realise that in a culture were 'face' is important starting from the premise "I have a problem" can be inhibiting for some teachers.

Similarly much of the jargon and quasi-philosophical debate has unfortunately ring-fenced aspects of self-study action research (witness the JISCmail discussion group for the Practitioner Research SIG whose outcome was to establish a new and more simply spoken TeacherResearch discussion group). The approaches that my Japanese colleagues and I have adopted has been and continues to be rooted in practical considerations. We work together trying to find ways to improve teachers development and implementing action research ad mentoring in the process. However, whereas action research of the kind How can I improve? is developing a strong following mentoring in Japan remains at present restricted largely to instruction reified in a highly hierarchical model (Asada, 2005, presentation to BERA in this symposium).Colleagues in Japan are using video, audio recording and emails to explore mentoring and provide data which we can synthesize into evidence to support our claims to know. We are collaborating to change the culture to an understanding of mentoring as action enquiry to improve practice and in the process we are aiming to enable teachers to co-create new knowledge as they improve their teaching and students' learning.

Observations on this Kounai ken are shared
Observations on this Kounai ken are shared
Professor Asada discusses Kounai-ken (0.20 minutes)

Interim Conclusions

I have called this interim conclusions because although the successful introduction of action research is well underway in some areas (the work of Professors Asada, Ikuta and Sawamoto respectively in Kobe and Tokyo, in Niigata and again in Tokyo is highly significant) mentoring as instruction based on the traditional model of apprenticeship in Japan continues to hold sway in teacher education. During my last visit in December 2004, I sensed an excitement and great interest in the potential of enabling a flat hierarchy in mentoring where there is potential for an exchange of expertise. There are inhibiting factors - not least in initial teacher training the practicum of just four weeks in schools. However, action research with mentoring as CPPD (continuing personal and professional development (Fletcher, 2000) seems to offer substantial promise.

My own experience of participating twice in Kounai ken (in Tokyo and in Niigata) leads me to the tentative conclusion that Kounai-ken is followed by less of an open discussion than a pronouncement of how the lesson has been perceived by observers coming to a (not necessarily) concensus view. The role of the sensei or master teacher tends to be venerated, Teachers may not always concur with the observers' opinions but they seem somewhat reticent to challenge them and share insights. It seems to me that Kounai ken offers a unique and practice enhancing experience. However the culture of waiting for a party of experts to pronounce on the merits and weaknesses of a lesson rather than engaging in democratic debate may be an opportunity as yet not fully exploited for the growth of new knowledge about pedagogy. Asada (2004) confirms this perspective where he says that as yet we know little about teachers' own practical knowledge. It tends to remain tacit. One wonders if discussion between teachers and on-going action research integrated with mentoring as co-enquiry as a whole school approach to improving practice might not be a workable and useful development. Certainly this wold be my perspective as a valuable development in the UK in preparartion for OfSTED inspections. Rigorous classroom based research with peer mentoring could generate knowledge. Web-based snapshots like this, (Carnegie KEEP Toolkit) could be the ideal tool for sharing and disseminating ideas.

Mentoring and action research in Bitterne Park School

This electronic portfolio was created using the KML Snapshot Tool™, a part of the KEEP Toolkit™,
developed at the Knowledge Media Lab of The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
Terms of Use - Privacy Policy